Debriefing and Setting Next Steps

To improve our coaching practice we must reflect and develop next steps
289 teachers like this strategy

About This Strategy

An observation isn't actionable until we reflect and debrief on what it tells us, and use that information to thoughtfully plan our next steps. An observation debrief needs to be focused and collaborative, and include establishing actionable next steps for the teacher. The best debriefs first ask the observed what their experience was. Critical elements of an effective debrief include returning to the purpose of the observation (i.e., collaborative log), guiding the observed to identify small wins (what worked), wondering why something didn't work (if that is the case) rather than naming it, and asking the observed for their thinking before, and during, suggesting next steps. Finally, an observation is intended to support growth, and therefore should not be personal in nature.

Implementation Steps

  1. If not in place, this is a good time to pause and establish norms. See the strategy "Norms: The Secret Sauce to Productive Meetings" in the BetterLesson Lab.

  2. Review observation notes. Highlight those that relate specifically to the purpose of the observation. It might be helpful to prepare open-ended questions, such as:

    • How do you think the implementation went? Why?

    • What impact on students do you think the strategy had?

    • What did you notice as you implemented the strategy?

    • What adjustments did you make … ?

    • Did you face any challenges during this class?

    • What do you think you might change about this strategy?

    • What do you think is a next step from this strategy?

  3. With the teacher, review the notes made prior to the observation (purpose, steps, etc.).

  4. Ask the teacher about how the strategy implementation went (see the open-ended questions above and in the collaborative log resources below).

  5. Be sure to emphasize small wins from your observation. For example, if the teacher implemented academic talk stems for the first time and states that not many students used it, point out that this means some students used it.

  6. Use questioning to lead the teacher to identify next steps. For example, "I'm wondering why some of these other students weren't using the academic talk stems?"

  7. After giving the teacher time to respond (they usually nail it), it is appropriate to share some of your questions and wonderings. For example: "I'm wondering if students needed a copy of the stems to look at? I'm wondering if students had too many stems to start with? I'm wondering if students needed more time interactively modeling the stems? I'm wondering if the cognitive demands of the content were so high the students didn't have the "cognitive space" to add another complex piece of thinking?"

  8. Continue discussing with the teacher to identify what their next implementation steps will be. Don't end the debrief until an actionable next step is identified and a time of implementation is named. Use questioning to make sure the next step is small enough to actionable and measurable. The questions in the Try-Measure-Learn Collaborative Log support this if you go back to the start of the log and begin the same process.

  9. Ask the teacher how you can support their next steps. This emphasizes the true purpose of observation as incremental and continuous improvement, and builds the good will that makes this an effective practice.

Mind the Gap Protocol

In order to support teachers to debrief a after a coaching observation, a coach can use the Mind the Gap Protocol to see the teacher and students as learners in order to set clear and measurable next steps.

Implementation Steps:

  1. Share with the teacher that in order to accomplish a task a person must have the following:
    • The skills to do it--the technical skills
    • The knowledge about content or pedagogy
    • The will--the desire, passion, motivation
    • The capacity--the mental, emotional, or physical ability
    • The emotional intelligence--the ability to be aware of, manage and express one's emotions and be aware of other's emotions.
  2. Reflect on the most recent classroom observation by exploring each of the elements above in order to determine the teacher or the students' gaps. 
  3. Make a clear plan for how the teacher will address his or her gaps before the next coaching session.

Question to Consider

Ask for feedback after the debrief.

  1. Did this observation and debrief feel helpful?
  2. How can I improve when I do this next time?

Coach Tips

Cheryl Belknap
BetterLesson Instructional Coach

Printing high quality open-ended questions will help you to stay on the path of using questioning to guide the thinking. Keep in mind that this is a good practice to model. We want teachers to use open-ended questions with students, and initially a good way to support this is to write them down and keep them with you so they aren't forgotten in the moment.

Tech Tools


  • Screencastify makes it easy to record your own video lesson leveraging resources you have organized in your web browser (slide deck, websites, Google Docs, etc.). Pointing, highlighting and even writing over content is possible while displaying your video and audio as well.
  • Screencastify can support this strategy by providing you with an easy way to record a lesson by using the webcam function. The video can be used later on to analyze teachers and students actions and summarize feedback. It can be very helpful if your are coaching someone remotely or if you cannot attend the particular moment of a lesson that a teacher has been working on. It can also be used in a debriefing session to watch the tape afterwards and better analyze and reflect on what happened.